Many readers are familiar with the 13 exegetical
principles of Rabbi Ishmael which occur in the daily prayer
books in the morning prayer. In this email newsletter I
have called these rules the style rules. It is
important to clarify what the Rabbi Ishmael rules focus
on. After all they are distinct from rules of meaning
grammar and alignment. What are they?
We have explained in our article
located on the world wide web at
that the Rabbi Ishmael style rules are rules governing the interpretation of examples. In other words
if the Biblical text gives a specific example, as a
law or narrative, does the Author intend that the law or
narrative exhaust its meaning in that particular example, or,
does the Author intend the example as a mere example which
should be understood by the reader as a paradigmatic
example which should be generalized.
Here is a good example. Dt25-04 states
don't mu13le an ox while threshing. The Rabbi
Ishmael generalization rule requires that we do not see this example as exhaustive of the law but rather as requiring generalization. Hence Jewish law interprets this
to mean Don't mu13le any animal while it is
doing its typical work. Actually the law prohibits not only mu13ling but any type of inteference with the animal eating.
In this particular case we used the generalization style. Sometimes however we use the restrictive style and interpret the example as exhaustive of the law--
the example is all the law says.
Verse Lv19-14b states a prohibition:
Thou shalt not curse the deaf, nor put a stumbling-block before the blind, but thou shalt fear thy G-d: I am HaShem.
Rashi employs the generalization method on this verse:
Just as you may not put a stumbling block before a physically blind person so too
you may not give bad advice to an innocent person since the bad advice could cause
the person to stumble in the path he has chosen.